Be an Amazing Catechist
Mute Splendor: An Autistic Child Deepens Her Family's Faith
"And while considering the visible elements of faith as a possible access point for kids with disabilities, I had this idea that maybe I should explore looking at God in a similar way in order to connect more with Danielle. It's been a great way for my own spirituality to deepen. I began to look more at the visual—statues, icons, stained glass, and the sacramentality of nature—all the ways I would normally help Danielle to access her faith—and as a result, mine became much finer tuned.
"I started to feel a new connection to God, and even began to know what to focus on with my daughter. And then the experience of the liturgy of the Mass itself became this amazing spiritual opportunity, not just for her, but for us. The Catechism speaks of the inherent dignity of the human person. We all have that divine spark, and learning to see that in your special needs child, that's what I hope to leave people with."
The spiritual journey has been rewarding, and by facing each obstacle as an opportunity, this inspiring family is bearing fruit in other ways that benefit families facing similar challenges.
David is a physical therapist by profession, who works with special needs adults, and Mercedes is a certified teacher, so the couple has always been unusually proactive with meeting their daughter's developmental needs. Having used secular PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) materials with success, they recognized the need for simple, clear visual cues in her religious education process, as well.
So when Danielle was 7 years old and preparing to both understand and reverently receive First Holy Communion, her parents weren't stymied by the lack of available resources. The trailblazing couple simply worked together to create effective religious education materials from scratch, including a "picture missal" that led her through all the appropriate physical actions in the Mass (standing, kneeling, folding hands in prayer, etc.), along with their meanings. Danielle responded very well to her parents' efforts, and received her sacraments right on schedule, her appreciation for the Mass and the experience of sharing it with her family now holding a very special place in her life.
A few years later, when their son Brendan was mulling over project ideas aimed at earning his Eagle Scout rank, he contemplated his parents' successful efforts with Danielle and a remarkable plan was born.
As the project's leader, Brendan assembled and led a team of volunteers whose monumental task was to create a lending library of special needs resources for his parish (St. Isaac Jogues, in Marlton, New Jersey). His parents and his scout troop worked together to not only duplicate the original materials that had so helped Danielle, but to create a number of entirely new ones, all in multiple copies so that more families might benefit.
Mercedes supported the scout project by helping to raise funds, and she, Brendan and David developed most of the teaching tools. The entire scout troop helped to make them. These homemade materials proved so successful that the Rizzos were told repeatedly by the families who used them, "You should have them published!"
Mercedes took the reins and started querying publishers, and Loyola Press responded enthusiastically. Now their special-needs sacramental preparation program, "Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit," is available for purchase.
There's so much more to this story, so do get a copy of David's new book and spread the word to your DRE, your family, and anyone you know with a special needs child.
David and Mercedes Rizzo can be contacted through Loyola Press.
Thanks, and God bless you!
Lisa Mladinich is a Catholic wife and mother, catechist and workshop leader, and the author of the popular booklets, "Be An Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children," and "Be an Amazing Catechist: Sacramental Preparation" available from Our Sunday Visitor. She is the founder of www.AmazingCatechists.com.